Pounding Some Nails into Q’s Coffin

For reasons I explained in my previous post, the examples of editorial fatigue in Luke deserve to be better known than they are. In this post I’ll review some that Mark Goodacre presents in Fatigue in the Synoptics, and in the next post I’ll go over some more that Michael Goulder cites in Luke: A New Paradigm.

The Parable of the Pounds

The parable of the pounds in Luke 19:11-27 contains a couple of muddles. Many English translations deliberately mistranslate the Greek in an attempt to reduce some of the confusion it helps to cause.  Even so, a careful reader will notice two ways in which the text is muddled; see if you can find them before I point them out. I left a clue to one by putting the mistranslated Greek word in parentheses.

As they heard these things, he proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. He said therefore, “A nobleman went into a far country to receive a kingdom and then return. Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten pounds, and said to them, `Trade with these till I come.’ But his citizens hated him and sent an embassy after him, saying, `We do not want this man to reign over us.’ When he returned, having received the kingdom, he commanded these servants, to whom he had given the money, to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by trading. The first came before him, saying, `Lord, your pound has made ten pounds more.’ And he said to him, `Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.’ And the second came, saying, `Lord, your pound has made five pounds.’ And he said to him, `And you are to be over five cities.’ Then another (ὁ ἕτερος) came, saying, `Lord, here is your pound, which I kept laid away in a napkin; for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man; you take up what you did not lay down, and reap what you did not sow.’ He said to him, `I will condemn you out of your own mouth, you wicked servant! You knew that I was a severe man, taking up what I did not lay down and reaping what I did not sow? Why then did you not put my money into the bank, and at my coming I should have collected it with interest?’ And he said to those who stood by, `Take the pound from him, and give it to him who has the ten pounds.’ (And they said to him, `Lord, he has ten pounds!’) `I tell you, that to everyone who has will more be given; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them before me.'”

The first issue is that the story begins with a nobleman giving money to ten servants, but then when the time comes to give an account of what they got it seems there are only three.  It’s not just that we only hear about three of them, which would be strange enough in itself — this part of the parable actually assumes there were only three.  The Greek ὁ ἕτερος does not mean “another,” it means “the other.”  So what we have in vv.16-20 is “The first . . . the second . . . the other” – that is, three servants, not ten.

There’s also a muddle about just how many pounds the first servant ended up with. In v.16 we hear, “Lord, your pound has made ten pounds more,” meaning that this servant ended up with eleven pounds. But when the nobleman metes out punishment to the slothful third servant, the parable gets it wrong:  “`Take the pound from him, and give it to him who has the ten pounds.’ (And they said to him, `Lord, he has ten pounds!’)”

These appear to be instances of fatigue because everything makes sense and is internally consistent in the Matthean parallel (Matt 25:14-30):

Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. “For it will be as when a man going on a journey called his servants and entrusted to them his property; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them; and he made five talents more. So also, he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, `Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, `Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.’ And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, `Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, `Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.’ He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, `Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, `You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sowed, and gather where I have not winnowed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.’

As in the case of the Sower parable, Luke has done some condensing but he did so inconsistently.  Luke changed the start of the parable from three to ten servants, but then when they give an account he slips back to Matthew’s three. (Why change the number from three to ten in the first place?  As Goulder points out, Luke prefers fives and tens; see pp.104-105 for a list of examples.)

Also, in Matthew the first servant had five and gained five, giving him ten in all, so the command “Take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents” makes sense.  Luke copied that command as-is, remembering to change talents to pounds but forgetting that in his changed scenario servant number one ended up with eleven, not ten pounds.

Which Little Ones?

In Luke 17:1-2 we have a reference to “these little ones,” but here in Luke, Jesus is just talking to his disciples with no one else around, and there is no prior indication of what the phrase “these little ones” refers to:  the phrase refers to:

And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come; but woe to him by whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung round his neck and he were cast into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones (τῶν μικρῶν τούτων) to sin.

In Matthew the phrase makes sense because Jesus makes the remark while children are around and it refers to the children:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them, and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; but whoever causes one of these little ones (τῶν μικρῶν τούτων) who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the man by whom the temptation comes! (Matt 18:1-7; cf. Mark 9:42-48)

Luke has taken two sayings out of context and reversed their order, and in so doing he forgot that one of them contained a phrase that directly referred to the part of the Matthean context that he dropped.

Which town?

In another example of a missing referent, we find in Luke 9:5 the expression “that town” when there was no mention of a town earlier:

And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal. And he said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics. And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town (τῆς πόλεως ἐκείνης) shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” And they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere. (Luke 9:1-6)

The missing pieces are present in the parallel text in Matthew:

These twelve Jesus sent out, charging them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And preach as you go, saying, `The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying, give without pay. Take no gold, nor silver, nor copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor a staff; for the laborer deserves his food. And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it, and stay with him until you depart. As you enter the house, salute it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or that town (τῆς πόλεως ἐκείνης). Truly, I say to you, it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town. (Matt 10:5-15; cf. Mark 6:6b-13)

Here again, the Lucan muddle makes sense as an error in Luke’s adapting the Matthean text.

Missing Ears

In two parallel clauses in Luke 10:23-24, something is missing in the first one:

Then turning to the disciples he said privately, “Blessed are the eyes which see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” (Luke 10:23-24)

“Blessed are the eyes” goes with “see what you see,” but there is nothing to go with “hear what you hear.” The missing phrase is present in the parallel text in Matthew:

But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it. (Matt 13:16-17)

Here too the Matthean text is consistent, and the Lucan text looks like an imperfect adaptation.

The Centurion’s Boy

Another example where the translators’ choice of words could make a minor Lucan muddle more or less obvious is in the story of the centurion’s boy in Luke 7:1-10. The issue in this text is that Luke vacillates between calling the centurion’s boy a slave (δοῦλος) and a child (παῖς):

After he had ended all his sayings in the hearing of the people he entered Capernaum. Now a centurion had a slave (δοῦλος) who was dear to him, who was sick and at the point of death. When he heard of Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his slave (δοῦλον). And when they came to Jesus, they besought him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he built us our synagogue.” And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to him, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant (παῖς) be healed. For I am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, `Go,’ and he goes; and to another, `Come,’ and he comes; and to my slave, `Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this he marveled at him, and turned and said to the multitude that followed him, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave (δοῦλον) well. (Luke 7:1-10)

While παῖς can be rendered as “servant,” it has broader usage than δοῦλος and often means simply “child.” That is how RSV translates the word in the other instances where it occurs in Luke (2:43 speaks of “the boy Jesus,” and in 8:54 Jesus says “Child, arise” to a couple’s daughter). This appears to be a case of editorial fatigue because in the parallel text in Matthew, the one healed is consistently called παῖς:

As he entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, beseeching him and saying, “Lord, my servant (παῖς) is lying paralyzed at home, in terrible distress.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion answered him, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant (παῖς) will be healed. For I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, `Go,’ and he goes, and to another, `Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, `Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard him, he marveled, and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.” And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; be it done for you as you have believed.” And the servant (παῖς) was healed at that very moment.

In this post I’ve recounted some of the instances of editorial fatigue that Mark Goodacre mentions in Fatigue in the Synoptics. Michael Goulder found many more, and I’ll draw on those to pound some more nails into Q’s coffin in my next post.

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